Writer: Emily Renée
Director: Tamar Saphra
Alice is advertised as being the first production in the UK to explore an Azerbaijani-British identity, but if that is its goal, it has failed, and what we get instead is a bland story of a couple meeting, marrying, and then having a child. This could be anyone’s story.
In this one-woman show Emily Renée charts the lives of two Azerbaijani exiles meeting in a pub in London. Sometimes Renée narrates the story, and sometimes she acts out the parts. Even though her voice and mannerisms are the same for each character, the story, carefully written, is easy to follow. She burdens us with details: the colours of clothes, the rain outside the pub, but rarely do these minutiae tell us anything about Azerbaijan. Indeed, we learn more of St Petersburg than Baku.
At other times words fail her and we’re left on our own to imagine the ‘reddest boots you’ve ever seen’ or the most fancy ‘ice-cream you’ve ever seen.’ We hang on to each image that Renée presents, thinking in some way that it will be important to the narrative, or the crisis that is certain to come. We are so laden with quotidian particulars that the ending is abrupt and unsatisfactory.
The staging is quite static too: she stands for most of the play between the audience gathered on two sides. Sometimes she sits among us, which is a nice touch, but it does cause problems with sightlines, and her voice is occasionally muffled by the trains that rumble overhead. A microphone on a stand takes centre stage, but that is only used when Alice, the couple’s daughter, arrives.
The story is the main problem here, and if it is based on fact this doesn’t mean that it’s ready for dramatic interpretation. There’s no real examination of the idea of home, or of roots, of nationality or homesickness. This is just an everyday story. The sample of Nena’s 99 Red Balloons, played intermittently throughout the 50-minute running time, does more to evoke the fall of communism, than any of the scenes Renée provides.
If the material was more interesting, there could be a play here.
Runs until 1 March 2020